The fiddle and violin may seem like the exact same instrument at first glance… Well, actually that’s because they technically are the same instrument!
That said, there are important differences between the fiddle and the violin, mainly in musical context, technique, and what kind of music they are used to play.
We dive into these differences below.
But first, I can’t resist a popular fiddle and violin joke that hints at the answer:
Q: “What’s the difference between a violin and a fiddle?”
A: “A violin has strings, but a fiddle has STRAAAANGS.”
Fiddle Vs. Violin: What’s The Difference?
While the violin and fiddle are technically the same instrument, this instrument is referred to as a violin in classical music, and referred to as a fiddle in country-western and bluegrass music. So whether one calls this instrument a violin or fiddle depends on the context and the kind of music being played.
We’ll make this clearer with some video examples below, one of a fiddle and one of a violin.
Fiddle Vs. Violin Sound and Playing Difference (with Examples)
Fiddle Playing Sound
In the video above, Mark O’Connor plays a fiddle solo around the 3-minute mark. This is a good example of what the fiddle sounds like when played in the bluegrass tradition.
Violin Playing Sound
Now in the above example, Hilary Hahn plays Bach on the violin.
These two examples illustrate how the fiddle is used in the country-western tradition, while the violin refers to the same instrument in classical music.
Fiddle Vs. Violin Technique
The difference between fiddle and violin technique is mainly that the violin is steeped more in tradition and classical music. There are more “rules” to this kind of playing, in one sense, but it also makes for a more rigorous and technically precise execution.
Fiddle players, on the other hand, will employ more “modern” techniques that classical violinists almost never use (simply because they weren’t used to compose most classical songs back when they were written.
These are techniques like:
- string bending
- extended multiple stop bowing passages
Fiddle Vs. Violin Tuning
Since the fiddle and violin are technically the same instrument, the tuning is usually exactly the same.
However, there is one important exception:
Typically the violin strings are tuned in perfect fifths: G3, D4, A4, E5.
Fiddles usually follow the same tuning, but a fifth string has been introduced by modern fiddlers, changing the tuning to G3, D4, A4, E5, and C3.
However, many fiddlers today still play a four-stringed instrument and prefer the classical tuning.
Fiddle Vs. Violin Bridge
Other small but noteworthy differences come into play in how fiddle vs violin players prefer to set up their instruments.
Fiddlers may opt for a flatter bridge instead of the classical arched bridge.
A flatter bridge decreases the angle between the strings, allowing for multiple notes to be played at once, which is desirable to some fiddlers depending on the style of music they’re playing.
Learn More About Fiddle & Violin
The best way to learn more about fiddle and violin is by getting mentored by a true master, someone like Darol Anger:
Darol Anger is an American violinist and founding member of The David Grisman Quintet.
Today, Darol is also passionate about teaching others to excel on the violin.
In Darol’s latest ArtistWorks course, he gives you access to a truly comprehensive video library with hundreds of violin lessons covering many musical styles:
Darol’s students enjoy unlimited access to:
- hundres of fiddle lessons online, at your own pace
- Complete tablature
- Mp3 play along tracks and jam tracks
So to learn violin from one of the best players of all time, I recommend checking out Darols course here.
The Best Fiddle Players
Want to learn more? I wrote up a full guide on the 20 best fiddle players of all time.
It’s the best place to go to steep yourself in the fiddle tradition and learn more about this instrument’s role in the country-western, bluegrass tradition.
Check it out here: